I have always loved watching nocturnal animals, When I was younger and living in the middle of the countryside, a tawny owl would come and perch on the huge sycamore tree outside my window, and its eerie calls would keep me awake at night as I strained my ears, trying to hear which direction it was coming from. On several occasions I went into the garden in the hope of spotting it, and would often find it silhouetted against the bare winter tree, hardly visible except as a lump which could have just as easily been a branch. One particular night as I as watching it, it spread its wings and glided away after only a few minutes, so silently it seemed ghostly. I saw it during the day on several occasions too, but always hunched up asleep. Seeing it come to life when the sun went down was an incredibly magical experience.
Tawny owls are commonly heard in Great Britain but not so often seen. At the time of my close encounter I had only very recently returned from living in Ireland for some time, where the species is absent, hence my excitement at having one right in my back garden. I have heard many since then, including one slightly confused creature flying around in broad daylight, but I have never come across any so close up.
Owls remain some of my favourite nocturnal creatures, but after walking through my local park on an organised bat walk at night and seeing bats flitting across the sky every few minutes, they too have been added to the list. As their calls are not audible without a special bat detector they can be mistaken for birds, particularly in the early evening but in fact their flight pattern and silhouette is very different. They make up almost a quarter of British mammals and many of them are endangered, so they are certainly not a group of species to be overlooked.
As well as owls and bats other creatures which you might see more of if you venture out after dark include many British mammals such as hedgehogs, foxes, and badgers. Add to this the vast number of night-flying moths and you have a fascinating new world as soon as the sun goes down.
A great way to experience Britain’s nocturnal wildlife is in a tent. Take a red torch to avoid scaring nocturnal animals or damaging your night vision, warm clothes and a sleeping bag, and settle down to see what emerges. Even if all you do on your camping expedition is lie outside the tent looking up at a vast starscape or listen to the aforementioned tawny owls going about their business, it all provides a new perspective on nature, plus an opportunity to appreciate the dawn chorus in the morning without having to get out of bed!
You needn’t go far to have a great camping experience. You’d be surprised just how much is lurking in even familiar places like your garden, only to come out under cover of darkness.
Did you sleep out already?
The RSPB are trying to find out how many people got involved with the Sleepout 29-31 July. Part of their work focuses on trying to connect people with nature through events like this so, if you took, part visit rspb.org.uk/sleepout/ to let them know!
In doing so you'll also unlock an exclusive quiz to find out what night time creature you are.
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